Sunday, July 31, 2016

The 3 - July 31, 2016

This week's edition of The 3 include a decision by an Alabama school official to allow a local high school band to play Amazing Grace in a halftime show after initially announcing it would be removed.  Also, atheists are crying foul at grant money that is being given to a ministry in support of a large denomination's convention in Kansas City.  And, charges in Texas have been dropped against two videographers who had released videos about the nation's largest abortion provider's sale of body parts from unborn children.

3 - The band plays on: "Amazing Grace" greenlighted

Perhaps you have heard about the controversy in Elmore County, AL, where the band at Holtville High School had planned to play Amazing Grace as part of a halftime show.  There had been an inquiry about the song's inclusion received by the county Board of Education, and the Superintendent, Andre Harrison, made the decision to pull the classic, traditional hymn from the program.

According to WSFA Television, the superintendent said that he consulted with legal counsel and received what he said to be an "admittedly conservative" recommendation.  The song was removed - temporarily.

The television station reports that last Sunday, July 24, Harrison posted an update on Facebook that said he had been contacted by many concerned parents regarding the decision to pull the song.  He said that he asked counsel to do further research on the issue and to see if there was an option that would keep the district in legal compliance, but permit the performance of "one of the most iconic songs in the history of our nation." The additional research led the superintendent to reverse the earlier decision.

On his Facebook page, Franklin Graham, who had called attention to the situation earlier on the page, said:

If Christians had remained silent, this change would most likely not have occurred. I applaud the parents and community members who let their voices be heard. People even came out and gathered in front of the high school to show their concern and support for the band. We all have to take a stand for our religious freedoms while we still can.

2 - Lawsuit challenges city's assistance to upcoming denominational convention

The National Baptist Convention will be holding its annual meeting in Kansas City in September, and a group of atheists is up in arms about some grant money that is flowing to a ministry associated with the event.

Baptist Press reports that the Kansas City Council approved a grant from the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund to a ministry called John Modest Miles Ministries, which is a community nonprofit arm of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City. The ministry plans to use the money to support tourism during the Convention's national meeting in Kansas City.  The article quotes from the Kansas City Star, which reported that Miles said the money would be used for transporting convention delegates and other visitors.

A lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri by American Atheists Inc. and two of its Kansas City members, seeking to block the grant allocation and have it declared unconstitutional.

The Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund was established in 1989, according to the Kansas City government website, to support "non-profit organizations through contracts for services ... to help promote Kansas City's distinct and diverse neighborhoods through cultural, social, ethnic, historic, educational and recreational activities in conjunction with promoting the city as a premier convention, visitor and tourist center."

1 - Charges dropped against pro-life videographers

The pro-life videographers with the Center for Medical Progress who had produced the videos documenting Planned Parenthood's sale of body parts from unborn children had the final charges against them in Houston dismissed this past week.  According to a WORLD Magazine story, Harris County District Court Judge Brock Thomas dismissed the final indictment stemming from David Daleiden’s undercover work exposing Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the fetal tissue trade at the request of the county District Attorney's office, which admitted that the charges brought against him, as well as Sandra Merritt, were invalid due to irregularities.

This case begin after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to investigate allegations of profiteering by Planned Parenthood. But after the completion of the grand jury investigation, jurors indicted Daleiden and Merritt instead.

Charges dismissed included trying to purchase fetal remains and tampering with a government document (falsifying their drivers’ licenses).  According to WORLD, attorneys for Daleiden and Merritt argued that the indictments "demonstrated a bias against their clients and pointed to the grand jury investigation and its flawed procedures as evidence."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The 3 - July 24, 2016

This edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance impacting the Christian community, include a decision by the NBA to pull its All-Star Game from the state of North Carolina due to its attempt to uphold privacy and safety in public bathrooms.  Also, contrary to church teaching, a region of the United Methodist Church has appointed an openly gay bishop.  And, the Republican convention is over, but the debate over Donald Trump among Christian continues.

3 - NBA pulls All-Star Game from Charlotte

This week, it was announced that the NBA would be relocating its scheduled 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina.  The reason cited is the bill that was passed by the North Carolina legislature that would provide that citizens would use the restroom corresponding to their biological gender in state government buildings.   According to Focus on the Family, citing the North Carolina Policy Council, HB2 was passed in order to:
  1. Rein in a rogue city council in Charlotte that acted beyond its legal authority;
  2. Establish a statewide bathroom privacy and safety law codifying existing state policy; and
  3. Enumerate and clarify existing state policy, as it relates to discrimination in employment and public accommodations.
The piece says that, "The law listed five categories for civil rights protections: race, religion, color, national origin and biological sex. This mirrors the standard in federal law and a majority of states across the U.S."

Kellie Fiodorek, Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, took the NBA to task, saying:

“The NBA has abandoned common sense and put politics ahead of principle. The North Carolina privacy law, which protects girls and women from being forced to share locker rooms and showers with men, is completely reasonable. Pulling the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte is unreasonable and hypocritical. If the NBA actually believed that there is no difference between men and women, it would merge its two leagues. Twenty years ago, the NBA recognized the innate and obvious biological differences between men and women when it created the WNBA. Today, the NBA hopes no one notices that it properly maintains separate leagues for men and women while it opposes the commonsense law that simply protected the dignity interests and privacy rights of North Carolinians. Twenty-three other states explicitly support the freedom of states to set their own policies and laws regarding locker rooms and restrooms. Even New Orleans, the alternative city often mentioned as a host for next year’s All-Star Game, allows for ‘separate bathroom, restroom, shower or similar facilities for males and females’ in its local ordinance. The NBA should stick to what it does best—showcasing the world’s greatest professional athletes and serving its diverse fan base—rather than showcasing its amateur political posturing and serving the narrow-minded power elite.”

Writing for The Stream, author and commentator Michael Brown said,

Let us not forget that when the NBA decided to bring the All Star game to Charlotte, the laws were just as they are today: Men were expected to use men’s bathrooms and locker rooms and women were expected to use women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.

If this was so terrible, why did the NBA agree to bring their annual, weeklong, festive event here? The State legislature simply reversed a radical bill passed by the Charlotte City Council earlier this year, a bill which had effectively rendered all public bathrooms and locker rooms gender neutral.

The State simply put things back to where they were before. Why then the outcry from the NBA? Why punish the state for moving things back to the way they {sic} when everything was fine?

You can access my conversation with Bruce Hausknecht, Judicial Analyst for Focus on the Family, which included content about this development, by clicking here.

2 - United Methodist sector elects openly lesbian bishop

Just weeks after the General Conference of the United Methodist Church decided not to address church policy on sexuality, rather leaving it to a committee to make recommendations about certain issues, including the denomination's view on homosexuality, the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the Church decided to take matters into its own hands and appoint a gay bishop.

John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, wrote at the IRD website in a piece dated July 16:

United Methodists in the denomination’s liberal Western Jurisdiction have elected the first openly partnered gay bishop in the 13 million-member global church’s history. Pastor Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, who is married to another woman, will be consecrated a bishop during a Saturday afternoon service at the regional conference being held outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

After highlighting some of Oliveto's criticism of the ministry of St. Paul, support for the nation's largest abortion provider, and pastoring a church that had served as an illegal medical marijuana dispensary, Lomperis continued:

The United Methodist Church effectively shelved all legislation on sexuality at its recent General Conference. In doing so, the church retained language declaring homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” in its governing Book of Discipline. The church does not ordain “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” but some bishops have overlooked this restriction on a technicality that some non-celibate lesbian and gay candidates for ordination have not “self-avowed” their sexual practices.

Very importantly, the denomination’s South Central Jurisdiction, which has more than five times as many members, almost immediately voted to petition the Judicial Council, the “supreme court” of the denomination, to review the legality of such actions by the Western Jurisdiction.

After the election, Council of Bishops president Bruce Ough said, according to Religion News Service, that the Council is “monitoring this situation very closely.” He also said the council will continue its work of forming the commission to discuss sexuality.

1 - Evangelicals processing Trump nomination, acceptance speech

The Republican National Convention has come and gone, with the Democratic convention kicking off this week.  And, there is a noted difference of opinion among Christian leaders about the prospect of a Donald Trump Presidency.   After the platform committee developed and delegates to the Cleveland convention approved a life- and traditional marriage-affirming platform, then-presumptive nominee Donald Trump chose a Christian social conservative, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, as his Vice-Presidential running mate.   And, Trump through out some comments to evangelicals during his acceptance speech.  Some examples, according to Baptist Press:

He expressed gratitude to the "evangelical and religious community," saying, "I'll tell you what, the support they've given me -- and I'm not sure I totally deserve it -- has been so amazing and has had such a big reason for me being here tonight..."

Referring to the Johnson Amendment, preventing non-profit organizations, including churches, from endorsing political candidates, he said, "I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans."

He also promised to, as the Baptist Press article put it, "To replace the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia with 'a person of similar views, principles and judicial philosophies.'"

The article says that Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a Trump supporter, said on Twitter after the GOP nominee's speech, "Tonight the world witnessed the @realDonaldTrump I've come to know. Strong. Decisive. Compassionate." Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, said that a vote for Trump is a vote for "conservative, pro-life justices to the Supreme Court," Falwell told delegates. He described the billionaire as a "true patriot."

Other Southern Baptist leaders were, well, less impressed:

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted, "I have heard nothing tonight that would persuade me to change my mind & vote 4 @realDonaldTrump," adding, "The saddest political situation in my life."

Denny Burk, professor at Boyce College said in a blog post, "The party belongs to him, and the GOP as we have known it is officially dead," adding, "If ever the country needed its statesmen to be men of courage, it is right now. ... I ask you not to make your peace with the convention's outcome. You should actively oppose the candidate through the general election."

Christian leaders speaking out in favor of Trump include James Dobson and Tony Perkins.  Those who have expressed opposition to Trump include Max Lucado and Russell Moore.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The 3 - July 17, 2016

This week's edition of The 3 delves into electoral politics, including a couple of developments leading up to the GOP Convention in Cleveland - a platform that affirms life and traditional marriage and a Vice-Presidential nominee who is a professing Christian.  Also, the U.S. House passed a bill that would protect from retaliation health care professionals who don't want to be involved in abortion. And, thousands gathered on a hot day in the nation's capital to be challenged to "reset" their lives through Christ.

3 - Pro-life, pro-traditional marriage proponents influence Republican platform; Trump chooses Christian conservative for VP

Even though there was talk leading up to the meetings to decide on the platform of the Republican Party that there would be a less conservative stance on life and marriage, the final product has been "hailed by many as one of the most conservative in recent memory," according to Conservative Review, which speculated that, "This is due to the strong conservative presence on the committee, fueled in large part by Cruz’s delegate strategy. The platform language is in many ways more evocative of Cruz’s rhetoric than Trump’s. The document is a strong win for constitutional conservatives."  This is welcome news to those Christians that desired for their values to be reflected in the GOP platform.

The analysis, written by Robert Eno, continues:

...In the 1976 Republican platform, the first platform after Roe v. Wade, the abortion language was not strong. Contrasted with the post Obergefell language in this platform on traditional marriage shows the effect that Cruz’s delegates had on the drafting process. The platform states unequivocally that the marriage of one man and one woman is the best model for children. 

Also, as the article points out, presumptive nominee Donald Trump had made it known that he wanted a "softening of platform language on abortion."  The analysis says that, "The final platform language is extremely strong on the protection of life."

And, on Saturday, Trump formally introduced Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential choice, after tweeting it out on Friday.  According to WORLD Magazine:

Trump called Pence “my partner in this campaign” and praised his ability to create jobs in Indiana: “This is the primary reason I wanted Mike—other than that he looks very good, other than he’s got an incredible family, and incredible wife.” Pence referred to himself as “just a small-town boy” and praised Trump as “a good man,” a fighter, a legendary businessman, and a patriotic American. “The American people are tired,” Pence said. “We’re tired of being told that this is as good as it gets. We’re tired of having politicians in both parties in Washington, D.C., telling us we’ll get to those problems tomorrow.”

Describing himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican—in that order,” Pence has a track record on issues as long as Trump’s is short. As a member of Congress, Pence supported a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, opposed same-sex marriage, opposed the No Child Left Behind Act, and led the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. In March, as governor, he signed a bill that prohibits abortion in Indiana based solely on genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome.

But, as Derrick relates:

Last year, Pence angered many when, after signing the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, he approved a “fix” that tried to find a middle ground with the LGBT community and corporate opponents. Conservative critics said the amended bill could expose religious persons to fines or even jail time for living out their beliefs on marriage.

2 - U.S. House passes conscience protection legislation regarding abortion

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday that would provide conscience protection for health care professionals who do not wish to be involved in abortion.  According to the Susan B. Anthony List website, the bill would make the Weldon Amendment permanent law.

The site says:

SBA List and other pro-life groups have been pressing for a vote on this legislation for years, and praised Speaker Ryan for taking swift action following HHS’ decision last month to unilaterally reinterpret the Weldon Amendment in order to allow California to force churches to purchase healthcare plans that cover abortion on-demand.

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said:

For decades, conscience has been an area of public policy consensus. Even those who support Roe used to agree that Americans who object to abortion should not be forced to participate in it or subsidize its costs. That longstanding consensus is now under attack from the Obama Administration and others on the left. Speaker Ryan’s quick action to counter this attack demonstrates exactly the kind of pro-life leadership we are looking for. We thank him for fighting back and offering Americans real protections...

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Matt Bowman is quoted on the Alliance Defending Freedom media website:

“Health professionals should always have the freedom—and indeed, have a right—not to be forced to perform abortions. In addition, every woman should be free to choose a doctor who values the life of her baby. Because the Obama administration has violated pro-life conscience laws so that now even churches, in many instances, must pay for abortion insurance, this bill has become necessary. The House was right to pass this bill to protect the freedom of Americans to practice and choose pro-life health care, and we hope the Senate will take it up as well.”

1 - Thousands join "Together" on the National Mall in Washington

The Together 2016 event took place on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Saturday, July 16, and while thousands attended, emergency officials instructed the event to shut down early due to intense heat in the nation's capital.

Charisma News stated that thousands came to celebrate that "Jesus changes everything." The event was shut down by Emergency Services after medical personnel were overwhelmed with the number of people, reported at more than 400, who were overcome by extreme heat.

Nick Hall of PULSE, which had planned the event, tweeted out: "This event has never been about coming to the Mall. It's about sending a generation out from the mall to share Jesus."

Hall is quoted as saying that they wanted to continue but "just felt like the right thing to do was to show respect and try to listen." The article says that he pointed out that it wasn't a coincidence that the event ended early, encouraging attendees to be witnesses for Christ. Hall said, "There might be somebody that needs Jesus that you're supposed to go talk to. ... God is the one that leaves the 99 to go after the one."

Christian rapper and hip-hop artist Lecrae tweeted out, "I see people as far as my eye can see," adding, "I see people who should be referred to as brothers and sisters...Let's not be a religious community that walks by people who are struggling and hurting. If we're not a healing salve, we contribute to the pain."

Scheduled speakers included Ravi Zacharias, Francis Chan, Josh McDowell, and Tony Evans. Musical artists, in addition to Lecrae, included Hillsong United, Casting Crowns, and Michael W. Smith.

The Religion News Service report on the event said that the program included author Ann Voskamp and poet Amena Brown in a spoken-word segment that featured calls for forgiveness and reconciliation related to racism and privilege.  Voskamp cried, "We will not be the people who turn a blind eye to injustice," and Brown replied, "We will use our voices, our time, our resources to effect change."  

Kirk Franklin prayed, “Let me die for my home, let me die for my community, let me die for a white man, let me die for a black man, let me die for an Hispanic man, let me die for an Asian man,” adding, “Let me get out of the way so you can be God in my life.”

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The 3 - July 10, 2016

Welcome to another edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community.  One of the stories this week involves a new law in Iowa that presents a threat to the freedom of religion of churches.  Also, in Kentucky this week, the massive Ark Encounter theme park, featuring a life-sized Noah's Ark replica, opened to large crowds.  And, violence with racial overtones came to cities across America, representing an opportunity for the Church to respond.

3 - New Iowa civil rights law threatens religious freedom rights of churches

The Alliance Defending Freedom, according to its website, has filed a Federal lawsuit against members of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, among others, to "stop the government from censoring the church’s teaching on biblical sexuality and from forcing the church to open its restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex."

ADF contends that the commission is interpreting a state law to ban churches from expressing their views on human sexuality if they would “directly or indirectly” make “persons of any particular…gender identity” feel “unwelcome” in conjunction with church services, events, and other religious activities.  According to the website, the commission is making conclusions on its interpretation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, which also includes a facility use mandate that requires anyone subject to the law to open sensitive areas like locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to persons based on their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.

The Alliance warns that this could prevent churches from making any public comments—including from the pulpit—that could be viewed as unwelcome to persons who do not identify with their biological sex.  This is because the commission says the law applies to churches during any activity that the commission deems to not have a “bona fide religious purpose.” Examples the commission gave are “a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public,” which encompasses most events that churches hold.  The story points out that, "ADF attorneys representing Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in Des Moines argue in the lawsuit that all events held at a church on its property have a bona fide religious purpose."

According to ADF, there was a minor revision made to a brochure that is associated with the law. Attorney Christiana Holcomb is quoted as saying, "“Cosmetic changes to the alarming language in one brochure won’t fix the unconstitutionality of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Churches should be free to communicate their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without fearing government punishment."

2 - Life-sized Noah's Ark opens in rural Kentucky

This past Thursday, the Ark Encounter, featuring a life-size replica of Noah's Ark, was opened by Answers in Genesis south of Cincinnati, Ohio.  President and CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, tweeted out that as of early Saturday morning, 25,000 people had visited the park, and attendance at the companion site, the Creation Museum, had increased by over 2,000 people per day.

Religion News Service did a feature story on the Ark Encounter, stating that more than 8,000 people showed up for a preview event on Tuesday night.  Ham was quoted as saying that the purpose of the Ark Encounter was to “proclaim God’s word and the gospel.” The story reported:

It’s meant to show — in keeping with Answers in Genesis’ ministry, focused on issues such as creation, evolution, science and the age of the Earth — that the biblical flood account is historic and the Bible is true in regard to history and science.

The story also reported that:

The park’s centerpiece features three decks of exhibits explaining Answers in Genesis’ views of the biblical flood account and life-size figures depicting what life on the ark might have been like for Noah and his family — an extravaganza Ham described as “beyond Hollywood.”

And, the Ark Encounter had a special guest on Friday night - Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," who had debated Ken Ham at the Creation Museum at 2014.  Ham wrote in a blog post on the Answers in Genesis website:

As we walked through the Ark, we had a very passionate discussion. It was like the debate all over again but more intense at times. Though it did get tense due to our differences in worldviews, it was an amicable visit.

Mr. Nye wanted to start his tour on the third deck where we discussed Flood geology and the ice core exhibit, which is part of the larger Ice Age exhibit. This display features a short clip from our debate of Bill Nye referring to ice cores in Greenland as an objection to the young earth view. In our exhibit I answer this objection; we even have a diorama to visually illustrate the answer. As we discussed geology and the Ice Age, our discussion turned toward worldviews. Ultimately, this is the heart of the issue—we have two different worldviews and two different interpretations of the same evidence because of our different starting points.

1 - Calls for prayer and action in the aftermath of shootings with racial elements

This week, there was a series of interrelated incidents that can compel Christian believers to seek to exercise the compassion of Christ and to address areas of tension in our culture.

Two deaths of black men at the hands of white policemen and five deaths of white policemen at the hands of one black man on a mission at a protest can raise plenty of questions, but we know that through Christ and based on His principles, there can be answers for our society.

The LifeZette website reported that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown spoke Friday morning at a press conference after 12 police officers were shot and five died the night before.

The article reports that: "At the end of his statement, Mayor Rawlings asked for one of the few things that can truly help comfort Dallas in the wake of this tragedy: prayer."  He said, "Chief Brown told the victims’ families last night and the police officers that he was a man of faith and I am a man of faith, too,” adding, “And we need prayers and prayer is good.”

He announced that at noon on Friday at Thanksgiving Square in Dallas, there would be "a leadership group of interfaith ministers," who would be leading in prayer.  The mayor said, "I would ask that if you're at your home or at your office or at your school, to join us at noon in that spirit of prayer," adding, "To bring our city together and our country together. To heal wounds, not create them."

The Dallas Morning News reported that this Thursday, local clergy would be meeting to try to work through some of the issues surrounding the tragedy and race relations in the city. Bryan Carter, senior pastor at Concord Church, a mostly African-American congregation in southern Dallas and one of the pastors convening Thursday's meeting, said that the goal of the event is to come up with a practical plan that local religious leaders can follow. He posed the question, "What are some key things we can do in the faith community in Dallas to put a dent in what we are seeing?"

Quoted in the article was Dwight McKissic, Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Arlington, who had invited the local police chief to talk to the mostly black congregation about how to deal with police in ways less likely to provoke confrontation. This was prior to the shootings in Dallas, after which the event's tone changed. McKissic is quoted as saying, "The police persons are uneasy. The citizens are uneasy," adding, "How do we move forward from this uneasiness?"

At an interfaith service on Friday night, Pastor Todd Wagner of the predominantly white Watermark Church explained how he was initially confused by the #blacklivesmatter movement. A black friend enlightened to Wagner, who explained on Saturday, "They weren't saying, 'We don't think white lives matter,'" adding, "'We're saying it feels like nobody else but us cares about black lives.' And that is a scary and a vulnerable place to live."  Wagner said the real solution is theological: "If we don't live in the ongoing truth of the God idea, in the reality of the objective presence of a loving God, the chaos and the crisis will only continue."

Dr. Tony Evans, Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and speaker on the radio program, The Alternative, issued a statement.  In it, he said:

We, as believers in Jesus Christ, must begin to both model and apply more fervently biblical solutions to our nation’s chaos.

Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians. One of the real tragedies today is that the church as a whole has failed to advance God’s kingdom light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The 3 - July 3, 2016

There was plenty of activity impacting areas of life, marriage, and religious liberty this week, and here in this week's edition of The 3, there were three state laws that were blocked by Federal judges - one involving religious freedom and marriage, two others dealing with the abortion issue.  Also, the Air Force has clarified its policy after a retired military member was removed from a retirement ceremony for a recitation that mentioned God.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling. striking down a Texas abortion law and refused to hear a case involving conscience protection for pharmacists who did not wish to dispense drugs that are designed to cause abortion.

3 - Mississippi religious freedom law, Florida and Indiana abortion laws blocked by Federal judges

This past week, Federal courts ruled against laws that had been passed by three states that are consistent with a Christian worldview perspective on religious freedom and life.

Regarding Mississippi, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the law that was set to go into effect on Friday, known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” or H.B. 1523, is unconstitutional and would “diminish the rights of LGBT citizens," according to a report on the website.  The story says that it is a bill "that would have protected the religious freedom of clerks and businesses that refuse to participate in same-sex marriages."

Reeves stated, “HB 1523 does not advance the interest the State says it does,” adding, “Under the guise of providing additional protection for religious exercise, it creates a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not rationally related to a legitimate end.”

Governor Phil Bryant responded by saying: “Like I said when I signed House Bill 1523, the law simply provides religious accommodations granted by many other states and federal law,” adding, “I am disappointed Judge Reeves did not recognize that reality. I look forward to an aggressive appeal.”

Also, another Federal judge blocked a Florida law that was due to go into effect on Friday. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle, according to the Miami Herald, "ordered the state to restore contracts with abortion clinics and to halt plans to inspect abortion records for half of the more than 70,000 patients a year who have the procedure done in Florida."

The law had mandated that no state money would fund non-abortion care at abortion clinics.  The action blocks parts of the law from taking effect, but the judge said he thought that the provisions would be found to be unconstitutional.  Other parts of the law did go into effect, including a requirement that abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or that abortion clinics have transfer agreements in place.

Read more here:

And, reports that U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt blocked an Indiana law that would protect pre-born babies with conditions such as Down syndrome.

The story points out that while Pratt’s ruling blocked the ban on most abortions based upon disability, as well as gender and race, as well as the requirement to bury the remains of aborted children, certain provisions of the law remain in effect, according to a statement from Indiana Right to Life.

These provisions include a requirement to give the mother information from the Indiana Department of Health about perinatal hospice care if her unborn child has been diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly. Also, there is an update to the state's admitting privileges law, mandating that an abortion provider document his or her admitting privileges with the department.

A spokesperson for Governor Mike Pence stated: "While disappointed in today's ruling, Governor Pence remains steadfast in his support for the unborn, especially those with disabilities. The governor will continue to stand for the sanctity of human life in all stages."

2 - Air Force clarifies policies on religious speech in retirement ceremonies after conflict

A video of an Air Force retirement ceremony at Travis Air Force Base in California has raised concerns about religious freedom for military members and resulted in a clarification from the Air Force.  The Christian Examiner tells the story of an incident in April, during which several Air orce personnel forcibly removed retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez Jr. during a flag folding ceremony at the retirement of Master Sgt. Charles Roberson when he began to recite, at Roberson's request, a flag-folding speech that mentioned God. The struggle was caught on video.

Now, while Air Force regulations say that nothing is to be recited in a flag-folding ceremony, unless it is the prescribed Air Force script, in this case, a civilian was the one that was speaking.  The Air Force has now clarified its policy, according to the Christian Examiner, saying no regulations were violated.  It states: "Since retirement ceremonies are personal in nature, the script preference for a flag folding ceremony is at the discretion of the individual being honored and represents the member's views, not those of the Air Force. The Air Force places the highest value on the rights of its personnel in matters of religions and facilitates the free exercise of religion by its members..."  The Examiner referenced a story from the Air Force Times website.

An investigation has been commissioned, and further clarification has been promised by an Air Force spokesperson.  Not surprisingly, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is considering a lawsuit.

Read more here:

1 - Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic restrictions, refuses to hear case involving pharmacist's religious liberty

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote, struck down the provisions of a Texas law that required abortion centers to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and that required abortionists to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, according to a report on the WORLD News Group website.

In essence, Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote, and the report said:

The ruling from Kennedy and the liberals—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—said abortion was safer than childbirth, long a talking point of abortion groups like Planned Parenthood. Kennedy’s vote meant that the late Justice Antonin Scalia, had he lived through this term, would not have changed the 5-3 outcome.

The story points out that the Texas legislature had passed the measures in response to the conviction of Pennsylvania abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive and manslaughter in the death of a patient. Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, said a similar law in Pennsylvania might have shut down Gosnell’s facility before he could commit his crimes. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, disagreed.

Emily Belz, the writer of the WORLD story, states:

Thomas’ dissent highlights how the court is making up its abortion jurisprudence as it goes along. The decision “perpetuates the court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights—especially the putative right to abortion.”

In a case involving abortion and religious freedom, the Supreme Court this week refused to hear a case out of Washington state that involved a challenge to a policy in the state that required pharmacists to dispense abortifacient drugs over their conscience objections.  WORLD reported on this development, as well.  The pharmacists challenging the regulation had won in a lower court, but lost at the appeals court level.

Justice Alito offered a dissent regarding the high court's refusal. The report quotes the justice as saying that , “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” Roberts and Thomas joined in, which means, according to Belz, the writer of that story, as well, that Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the decisive fifth vote to reject the case. The court requires four votes to take a case.

You can hear an interview on The Meeting House about these two cases by clicking here.